Here’s how to get a job in social media without spending $27,000 for a masters degree

September 18, 2013

(Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

For $27,000 and a year of your life, you can get a master’s certificate in social media at the University of Florida. Or you could save both your money and your time and take this advice from The Washington Post’s social media team, a group of people who obtained jobs in social media after studying things like … economics.

Don’t get us wrong: Social media skills are invaluable in the current job market, where jobs with the phrase "social media" in their title are growing by nearly 90 percent. And the University of Florida’s program seems to have some good things going for it. (Buzzfeed reports that students spend a lot of time on things like analytics, which the casual social media user doesn’t generally pick up.) That being said, most people currently working in the field picked up their social media skills at home or on the job. The consensus on The Post’s social media team is that there’s no formula for getting a job in this field -- we all came from vastly different backgrounds. If there was a formula, however, an academic degree likely wouldn’t be part of it.

I turned to my editor, Justin Bank, for a few more specifics. He’s interviewed more than 200 people for positions in social media and hired a grand total of three. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.) This interview was conducted via chat, so I’ve edited for capitalization and the like.

Caitlin Dewey: Could you tell me what you look for as someone who hires people to work in social media -- what types of skills, experience, networks, etc?

Justin Bank: The biggest thing I go looking for is fluency in digital media. Someone who speaks the language in cadence with the rhythms of the digital/social Web. And knows that it goes well beyond Facebook/Twitter. An understanding of metrics is nice. But people who speak in buzzwords or sound like robots are a no.

NO BUZZWORDS. Love it. Okay. Can you be any more specific about what skill sets or experiences have interested you in applicants? Any advice that's more actionable for prospective social media-ers?

Experience programming branded accounts, experience culling stories from social streams, understanding of metrics in measuring engagement/traffic, ability to write ... as demonstrated in a coherent cover letter. A unique point of view ... love Reddit, love Pinterest, hate Fark, whatever. Just understand why you feel that way and be able to explain it. I love people who realize that message boards and listservs are an applied social experience too.

Perfect. And does that have to be professional experience? Internship experience?

Professional, personal, internship … it just has to be demonstrable. Also, I Google everyone and stalk them on social.

That is terrifying. So one last question: What would your reaction be to someone who majored in social media, at the undergraduate or graduate level?

Eh, it’s okay. I don’t really care about the degree as much as the work experience. All a degree says to me is that someone can think critically and (hopefully) write. The specifics are kinda meh.


So there you have it, prospective social media grad students: Your degree is “kinda meh.” Less meh, however, are some things you can do for free: maintain your own active, creative, smart social accounts on a range of networks, intern with a company where you can do the same on a branded level, know what you like on social, and learn how to write well.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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